Hulu recently released a new Christmas movie with LGBTQ+ themes. Photo from Indiewire.com.
Hulu’s “Happiest Season” is filled with an all-star cast playing a host of hilarious and strange characters, secondhand embarrassment for viewers and some long overdue lesbian representation in the holiday romantic comedy film genre.
“Happiest Season” was released on Nov. 25, directed and co-written by actress-turned-writer and director Clea DuVall and comedian Mary Holland. They tell the story of Abby, played by “Twilight” star Kristen Stewart, who is going to meet her girlfriend of a year’s parents for Christmas. Abby has plans to propose to Harper, played by Mackenzie Davis (“Black Mirror,” “Terminator Dark Fate”), but those plans are dashed when Harper reveals that she isn’t out to her family and has told them that Abby is just her roommate. It doesn’t exactly help that Harper hides this information from Abby until they’re in the car on their way to her family’s house.
From there we meet the eccentric and perfectionist Caldwell family, helmed by Ted, who is running for mayor, and Tipper, his devoted wife who puts great pressure on her daughters, especially Harper, the youngest of the three sisters. They are played veteran actor Victor Garber and Academy Award-winning actress Mary Steenburgen. The eldest of the Caldwell sisters, Sloane (Alison Brie) is incredibly uptight and cold. Co-writer Holland plays the ignored, strange middle child Jane, who is quite honestly the best and funniest character in the film.
Other notable characters include Harper’s ex and first girlfriend, Riley (Aubrey Plaza), who may be the only half-sane person from Harper’s past, and Abby’s best friend, John (Daniel Levy), who provides just about as much comedic relief as Jane.
Knowing the secret that Abby and Harper are trying to hide, and frankly not doing a great job at it, the inevitable poor reactions from the Caldwells, the accidental sabotaging of Ted’s mayoral campaign, the tension between the family members and Harper’s ex-boyfriend who clearly has yet to move on, viewers are in for a ride full of frustration and awkwardness, but also lots of laughs and cute moments between the couple.
Still, the title “Happiest Season” feels a little off because the five-day trip seems to make them anything but happy, especially Abby who is constantly abandoned and ignored by Harper and the rest of the Caldwell family. Harper keeps promising that she’ll come out once the holidays are over and there isn’t so much pressure with her dad’s campaign, but with each passing scene, it’s clear that she may just not be ready, and that it’s hurting Abby.
The story is told from Abby’s point of view and with a lack of background on her relationship with Harper before they arrive at the Caldwell home, it can be hard to like Harper or feel sympathetic to her. Abby is feeling so poorly that she even manages to find an unlikely ally in Riley, causing some viewers on social media to ship them rather than the main couple. There has also been much criticism of Harper online with accusations that she doesn’t deserve Abby because of her inability to come out and be honest to her family throughout the film, or that she’s a toxic girlfriend for having Abby come and meet her family under false pretenses.
Another major criticism of the film comes from this idea in the LGBTQIA+ community is that we should be past coming out stories. I even watched a TikTok by @nicole_ledoux in which she sang “I don’t want it” about numerous lesbian films that revolved around them coming out.
From 1999’s “But I’m A Cheerleader” to 2018’s “Love, Simon,” there have been many stories about LGBTQIA+ characters coming out and Harper’s journey is no different. Other films, like “Booksmart” have had characters who came out prior to the stories being told and while that’s great, it doesn’t mean we’re past coming out stories. There is certainly not enough LGBTQIA+ representation on-screen, and for a lot of people, that may mean stories about coming out. After all, “Happiest Season” is the first lesbian holiday rom-com backed by a major studio and was co-written and directed by a lesbian.
It was also a success as well, breaking premiere records for Hulu and attracting more new subscribers than any other previous feature title according to Variety. Whether you believe that they’re needed or not, they’re very clearly still wanted. Personally, I think they’re needed as well and John delivers a brilliant speech to Abby following the film’s climax that really shows why.
“There’s your version and my version and everything in between,” he said. “But the one thing that all of those stories have in common is that moment right before you say those words, when your heart is racing and you don’t know what’s coming next. That moment’s really terrifying. And then once you say those words, you can’t unsay them. A chapter has ended and a new one’s begun, and you have to be ready for that.”
With the three lesbian characters in the film, Riley, Abby and Harper, there are very different stories being told, and even John shares his own experience in which his father kicked him out of the house when he came out. There have been many films about coming out and there will likely be more and that’s because it’s such a big part of so many LGBTQIA+ people’s stories. Personally, I think DuVall and Holland did a great job of having it not just be a film in which a main character (spoiler alert!) comes out, but the other one learns that coming out is an incredibly personal and unique experience that cannot be rushed.
Harper has been getting a lot of flack for not being ready, and as Twitter user @Gaysinbeanies put it, “when your own community is hating on you for still being in the closet, then I think we are so far from not needing stories like #HappiestSeason.”
I understand the frustration with Harper, and I felt quite a bit of it in the first 75 minutes of the film, but it’s also important to recognize that she’s on her own journey and that coming out isn’t and should not be a universal experience. It is not up for anyone else to decide when and how it should happen and as long as people still have to come out and still have to feel the way that Harper does, then I believe coming out stories should be told on-and-off screen.
So if your takeaway from the film is that Harper doesn’t deserve Abby or that we’re past coming out stories, I think you’ve missed the point. So, watch “Happiest Season” and rewind John’s speech if you need to, and the words from Harper to her family that follows, this holiday season and remember that all stories deserve to be told and heard.